This section of Exchange Street from Federal Street to Fore Street will be closed to traffic from June to November. File photo

PORTLAND — Nancy Pugh, owner of the Duckfat restaurant on Middle Street, said a plan to close down sections of four Portland streets to allow for more outdoor dining may help restaurants through the coronavirus pandemic.

“I love that Portland is thinking outside the box,” she said.

Restaurants and shops in sections of four streets downtown will be allowed to extend on to sidewalks and roadways June 1 to Nov. 1. Portland Press Herald Staff Graphic

The City Council on Monday unanimously supported an amendment to the city’s emergency coronavirus order that will close Wharf and Dana streets and sections of Milk and Exchange streets to motorists June 1 to Nov. 1. The measure would allow restaurants and other businesses to operate with proper social distancing by using parts of sidewalks and streets for outdoor dining and sales.

A 12-foot lane will be open along the closed streets for emergency vehicles, said Jessica Hanscombe, the city’s licensing and housing safety manager. The streets will be open for delivery and residents’ vehicles between 11 p.m. and 10 a.m. Americans with Disabilities Act compliance will be maintained and all sidewalks will have at least 4 feet of clearance for people to walk, City Manager Jon Jennings said.

Councilor Justin Costa said the effort is an experiment in creative thinking to help businesses make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

“We hope this will allow businesses and restaurants the ability to operate as safely as they possibly can,” he said. “No one knows if it will be successful in helping businesses meet their bottom line. The only thing we do know is this is better than not trying at all.”

Councilors also extended the city’s emergency order to July 13 and amended it to make it easier for businesses to use parking spaces, parking lots and other public and private spaces for outdoor dining.

Councilor Belinda Ray said she hopes some of the changes will become permanent.

“I see this as very, very positive for the city in expanding the pedestrian space,” Ray said.

Jennings said the city is open to conversations about closing other streets as well.

“We understand all businesses in Portland are suffering,” Jennings said. “Not just Portland, but all over the country. We want to make sure folks can bring their storefronts out into the open and hopefully this change will start that conversation.”

Councilor Pious Ali said some constituents feel the street closures are unfair because only the businesses along the closed streets will benefit from the additional foot traffic.

Jennings said because some streets in the city are state or federally controlled, the council does not have clearance to close them without proper permission. Fore Street, he said, would “really lend itself to closure” in this fashion, but it is a state-controlled road.

Nevertheless, any business in the city can work with staff to see if an outdoor dining and sales permit is possible in their location.

“This is not a program only focused on downtown,” Jennings said. “This is a program that is focused citywide. We are being very amenable to what we believe we could use in terms of city assets to be able to help the business community restart the economy of our city.”

The program has the support of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Portland Buy Local.

“We believe this will be tremendously helpful for businesses that have limited space indoors and for whom abiding by social distancing guidelines and remaining open would be almost impossible without this flexibility,” said Joe Marro, the chamber’s director of advocacy.

Mary Alice Scott, director of Portland Buy Local, said she has been in touch with businesses organizations all across the country who are looking at Portland as an example.

“It’s been a point of pride for me to say Portland is working fast and is supporting the local business community,” she said.

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